Too many clicks

How much does a click cost? How much are you prepared to pay per click? What is your information worth?

Public librarians find ourselves with a dilemma: do we continue to pay for expensive information databases that don’t get used despite consistent, clever and targeted promotion? As information specialists we appreciate the value of these types of information resources, but our customers don’t seem to be easily converted.

I feel treasonous to my profession by even asking this question. At a recent meeting of librarians who work in public libraries to discuss this topic, this question did not even arise. The academic peer-reviewed scholarly articles that are stored in these locked databases and therefore not freely available on the internet are gold, in the view of librarians and academics, and therefore beyond question.

People doing formal study have access to hundreds and thousands of these databases through the libraries of their tertiary education institutions. Victorian residents also have access to hundreds of these databases freely via the State Library of Victoria with a free membership.

To access one of these information databases as a public library member all you need do is have a current library membership, go to the library website, find the webpage where the online databases are located, select the database you want, put in your membership details, then hopefully you will arrive at the search screen (but not always – there may be a few more clicks yet). The search screen is often unlike a well-known Google key word search box; you may have to think a little to put a sensible search together. In regards to Boolean searching, Librarians know that Google assumes “and” when putting in keywords while most information databases don’t so you will need to add your own “and” “or” or “not”.

OR you can go to Google and put in the key words and cross your fingers. So ONE click compared to a likely minimum of FIVE. And many of these information databases are slow to load so you also have to wait.

Ask most librarians how they search online and many will say that depending on what they are searching for, they might first go to their own library catalogue, then Google, maybe Wikipedia, (or vice versa),and then delve deeper into the information databases once they have defined the information needs fully and if it is required by the customer.

There are a few information databases that the public customer does ask for and get real value from and these are Ancestry for family history research and perhaps a newspaper archive such as Newsbank. There are also some really great free information databases available online such as Picture Australia, the Better Health Channel, Law 4 Community, the Internet Movie Database, and dare I say Wikipedia.

So as a member of a public library what do you think? What do you want? Are these expensive but valuable specialist information databases a necessary resource that public libraries should be buying and offering with your free membership? Or are you happy Googling away, taking your chances with information that needs verification? Where should we be spending the public funds responsibly?

Clear blue mind

Of late I haven’t had much to say, because I have been trying to practice “clear blue mind”.

Imagining my mind as a clear blue sky, I observe the light fluffy thought clouds as they appear, drift and then disperse. I sit “zazen” emptying my mind of all thoughts trying to be untroubled and free from fear and doubt. I breathe in the crystal white light that could provide me with energy to face the day. I imagine all negative thoughts as grey smoke forced out by the light.

I can sit for 20 minutes in this way but I fail to find regularity of practice.

The Dalai Lama tells us in his book, “How to Practise: the Way to a Meaningful Life, that six times every day he imagines the eight levels of mind one by one. Those levels of mind are: mirage; smoke; fireflies; flame of a candle; vivid white sky-mind; vivid red or orange sky-mind; vivid black sky-mind; clear light. Fuller explanations of these are in his book.

It was easy to imagine “clear blue sky-mind” yesterday as I looked out the plane window above the clouds with the first glare of orange sunlight lighting the horizon. It was also easy to contemplate “death” as the plane came in through fog above the city. I knew the city was there somewhere close below. I trusted the young 20-something pilots could land us using only the instruments to guide them. It was a 20-seater and I was sitting in the very front seat, so I could clearly see the young men and the instrument panel and the white wall of fog.

In Buddhism contemplating “death” is a key teaching. Whilst not dwelling on morbidity, I have always had a keen sense of my own mortality and it gives perspective. If we were to miss the runway, then I had fully appreciated the beauty of life on earth when we were above the clouds.

Reading about how other people, Westerners especially, have come into Buddhist practices is compelling. “Why Buddhism? Westerners in search of wisdom by Vicki Mackenzie is a collection of interviews with individuals who describe their own experiences with Buddhism. I particularly like the comments about the practicality of Buddhist philosophies and how they can easily be applied to help you get through life’s little dramas. I am encouraged by the repeated observation about the depth of content and how the more people read and learn the more intrigued and interested they are to learn more. I am on the brink.

Needless to say, the pilots landed the plane beautifully. All those hours playing computer games paid off. Thanks boys.